By Paula Simpson, B.A.Sc. (Nutrition) RNCP and Shirley Madhère, M.D.
Aging is an ongoing process that generally begins at around age 30. A number of factors contribute to aging, both intrinsic factors that cannot be controlled, and extrinsic factors that can be modified. Factors such as smoking, prolonged and unprotected sun exposure, poor diet, improper hygiene, inattention to skin care, and stress can accelerate aging. Genetics and hormonal changes also play a role. Ultimately, with aging, there is a loss of natural oils, hydration, elasticity, fat, and collagen in skin, leading to dry, sagging skin without volume. It is not possible to stop the aging process; however, it can be delayed.
In a youth-obsessed and image-conscious society, it is becoming increasingly important to look as good as one feels, or at least to portray that one looks well, even in the presence of illness. This point underscores the idea that beauty comes from within, and that the best approach to feeling great and looking better is one that addresses the internal foundation upon which the external visage is based. This is one of the primary reasons why a holistic approach to wellness and age management is essential. This philosophy helps to improve the end result which is enhanced when a number of complementary steps are taken, such as a proper nutrition, appropriate skin care, and regular exercise.
Notwithstanding, with the plethora of role models and public personas from the sports, entertainment, fashion, and beauty industries displaying youthful features, it is no surprise that women and men of all ages are becoming increasingly aware of the merits or benefits of looking fabulous at any age. Attraction to beauty is global, no matter how beauty is defined. Everyone wants to feel attractive and therefore, beautiful. There is no judgment that can be placed on that. It is not superficial or vain; it is reality, and this reality has economic, psychological, and social ripple effects in numerous cultures, whether they are recognized or not.
Attractiveness implies health. The investment in “looking good” may be protected to a certain extent with proper skin care, adequate exercise, stress reduction, and appropriate nutrition. Depending upon the age, some of these factors may require more or less attention and modification. Although aging is generally stated to begin by age 30, early signs of facial aging may occur in the 20s. These signs may become prematurely prominent in the setting of smoking, prolonged, unprotected ultraviolet light exposure, and improper diet. Typically, however, wrinkling and dry or irritated skin marked by dyspigmentation are usually a result of sun damage. In one’s 30s, fine wrinkles may appear around the eyes and dynamic rhytids, or wrinkles that are caused by facial muscle action may begin to appear around the eyes, between the eyebrows and at the forehead. In addition, the overall lines of the face may begin to slope downward. “Excess” or loose skin may become evident the upper eyelids, and the nasolabial folds or “laugh lines” may deepen. Volume loss may start to occur at the malar or cheek area.
The fourth decade brings loss of elasticity and cohesiveness of the tissue planes, leading to sagging skin. Sun damage and other environmental effects compounded over the years may add dyschromias and other pigmentation issues. The cheeks experience further loss of volume, resulting in flattening and loss of youthful facial contours. The texture of the skin may be rough and dry, due to loss of hyaluronic acid and natural skin oils. Hair loss may also begin to be an issue in the 40s, with temporal thinning typical of an aging scalp. In the 50s, the downward vector of facial aging continues, with the corners of the eye sloping vertically and laterally. The nasal tip may droop, and the lips may be marked by thinness as well as wrinkling at the upper and lower lips. Wrinkles may appear deeper, the skin thinner, and the hair grey and finer. In the sixth and seventh decades onward, these changes become more pronounced, as the degenerative process of aging takes its toll on various tissue soft the face and body.
Visible skin aging begins around 30 years of age. The aging process affects skins structure, function and appearance. These may include:
• Decreased capillary circulation
• Epidermal thinning
• Sluggish cellular turnover
• Decreasing collagen and elastin fibers
• Abnormal water binding (hydration)
• Decreased lipid content
• Facial bone loss
“If You Feel Well, You Will Look Well”
The skin is the largest, all embracing organ of our body. Internally, it protects all biochemical and physiological functions, while externally it is the barrier against chemical and mechanical insults. The skin is also the “organ of appeal” and is the first image that others see of us. If the skin is healthy and vibrant, this is a good reflection of one’s total health and well being.
Although the skin appears smooth and delicate, it is actually a complicated organ with many grooves, layers and biochemical functions that work synergistically to renew and repair itself. As we age, the physiochemical homeostasis of the skin becomes compromised, leaving it more susceptible to intrinsic and extrinsic stressors that ultimately degrade it’s structure and function. Extrinsic stressors can have a profound impact on accelerated skin aging. Environmental insults contribute to the generation of free radicals and that stimulate the inflammatory process in the skin. UV rays have the most dramatic effect on skin aging as it initiates a complex series of biochemical reactions in human skin. Furthermore, UV causes depletion of cellular antioxidants and antioxidant enzymes (SOD, catalase), initiates DNA damage, suppresses the immune system and causes increased synthesis and release of pro-inflammatory mediators from skin cells. Over time, these effects degrade skin’s structure and homeostasis, ultimately leading to permanently damaged skin cells.
As skin is the “visual” organ, the beauty industry’s primary objective is to delay the skin aging process with sophisticated topical interventions to combat the degradative mechanisms. However, a critical, and often ignored component (in North America) to support the health and beauty of skin is nutrition.
Diet plays an important role to play in many skin disorders, and skin health professionals are frequently faced with the difficulty of separating myth from fact when it comes to dietary advice for their clients. Due to the incredible nutrient demands the skin places on the body, it is hard to ignore the role of nutrition and its potential impact on skin health. Further, a growing body of clinical studies show the typical North American diet challenges us to obtain those nutrients most pertinent to skin health and, in fact, may aggravate the skin condition.
Based upon current data, the following dietary guidelines for skin should be considered:
-Low glycemic diet – Epidemiologic studies suggest that dietary factors such as Glycemic Load may be involved in stimulating insulin resistance and inflammatory skin conditions (such as acne.) The glycemic index measures how rapidly different foods make your blood sugar rise, such as simple carbohydrates that are quickly absorbed into the blood stream over stimulating insulin production and may eventually lead to insulin resistance. Following a high glycemic and processed diet has recently been linked to triggering a chronic inflammatory response within the skin/body. Insulin resistance and inflammation are proposed to offset sebum production, malformation in collagen and excite the epidermal growth factor receptor, triggering inflammatory skin conditions such as adult acne.
-Up your ratio of Omega 3 rich foods – Those diets higher in omega 3s (such as the Mediterranean diet) have fewer chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis. Omega 3s naturally lubricate the skin and hair and also help to reduce redness and inflammation in the skin.
-Seek out antioxidant rich foods more often - As discussed, the free radical theory of aging proposes that as we get older and are continually exposed to stressors, our bodies become less efficient in neutralizing harmful free radicals that may permanently damage healthy cells (including skin cells). For some time, nutrition experts have recommended choosing foods that are “nutrient/antioxidant dense” over foods with little health protective benefits. This is also true for skin health. Clinical studies have shown that catechins from green tea, anthocyanins from berries and red cabbage, bioflavonoids from citrus, carotenoids such as lycopene and lutein from tomatoes, reservratrol from red wine and genistein from soy offer potent secondary antioxidants that protect the skin cells from free radical damage. By including these types of foods more often in the diet, studies have shown that their additional antioxidant protection is significant, particularly with regards to photo protection. The downfall of this is that they are quickly neutralized and therefore must be regularly consumed to offer these protective health benefits.
-Super foods/cleansing programs – Concentrated greens, such as wheatgrass, to juicing programs and sophisticated nutraceutical formulations are quickly gaining popularity to help manage skin health and wellness. The philosophy of cleansing programs is to “super charge” the body with nutrients that support the key eliminative pathways (liver, digestion, lungs, kidneys and skin), all while giving the body a rest from traditionally hard to digest foods and toxins found in our diet. By incorporating a nutritionally balanced cleansing program, this may help to remove toxicities that build up within our system (including the skin) over time. Cleansing programs may help to minimize skin irritation while supporting the healthy functioning of the key eliminative pathways and re-energizing our bodies.
-Nutritional supplementation (aka “Nutricosmetics”) – The most rapidly growing category in healthy aging is the use of oral products promoting beauty from within (Nutricosmetics). To work along with topical treatments and programs, these products are developed with specific nutrients to support healthy skin, hair, and nails. Although proper nutrition and a balanced eating plan is a starting point for optimal health, oral beauty supplements offer the right nutrients for healthier skin (to get this amount of nutrients from diet alone can be very difficult to attain on a daily basis). These products generally contain vitamins, minerals, botanical extracts, and antioxidants in their composition that have an effect on overall skin health and beauty.
Aging is an inevitable process. It cannot be stopped, for our bodies are temporary and are on borrowed time. Nevertheless, aging may proceed gracefully and graciously, given that there are numerous options for health, wellness, and therefore, beauty. Nutrition plays a vital role, and in absence of a whole foods, plant-based, non-processed diet, oral supplements as nutricosmetics may provide an important link to the fountain (or pill) of youth—or at least the appearance thereof!
Paula Simpson is the co-founder and one of the formulators behind the GliSODin Skin Nutrients Nutricosmetic Line. She is also a contributing editor to many of the leading medical aesthetic and beauty publications in North America. www.glisodinskin.com
Dr. Shirley Madhère is a plastic surgeon in private practice in New York City. For additional information about her philosophy of “Holistic Plastic Surgery” or her work, please visit www.thenewaesthete.com or www.drshirleymadhère.com.
For more on health and aging:
For more from Paula Simpson:
- The Detox-Beauty Connection
- Congratulations, President Obama, on Quitting Smoking!
- Nutricosmestics: Eat, Drink and Look Better? Yes!
- What Fad Diets Do to Your Skin
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